Wine has been around for thousands of years, but in the UK and ancient winesIreland has really only been gaining in popularity since the 1970’s.  Many of us now enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, or just on its own, yet  the great majority of us are still somewhat unsure of the differences between various grape varieties and styles of wine production, and how best to match a wine with a particular food.  We will try to help you with a bit of information on various wine styles, the grapes from which they are made and the many areas where wines are produced.


lovely wineBut first, there is still a degree of snobbery associated with wine, and with pairing wines to certain foods.  While there are some wines which will certainly clash with certain foods, and vice-versa, the only rule to remember is if you like it, then that’s OK.  A wine is a good wine if you like it!  Just because some wine buff declares a particular wine as good, or even great, does not mean it will be good for you.  Suit yourself, your personal taste is what matters.


We hope to help you enjoy wine, to learn something about how wine is produced and to hopefully enable you to cut through some of the conventions.  Our aim is for you to recognise what is good value for you and for you to understand just a little more about the wines you see on display in the shops.



Two distinct types of wine.

Wines can be divided two clear categories, based on how they are wine and cheeseproduced.  Commercial wines are produced in great bulk for the mass market, and premium wines are produced using traditional methods and in much lower quantities.  Both can provide pleasant wines, but it is useful to understand the differences.

As the general consumption of wine has increased, and New World countries have been producing for export, the quantities required to satisfy demand have been far greater than most traditional producers could supply, so production techniques have been developed to up output and meet the demand.  

As a rule commercially produced wines will contain additives to enhance colour and flavour as well as preservatives to increase shelf life.  These wines are “engineered” to offer consistency of aroma, taste and body so you can be reasonably sure that each bottle you purchase will offer the same taste as the last one.  The emphasis is on producing quantity.

The flavour and quality of a premium wine is dependent on the quality of the fruit and the skill of the winemaker. There are no flavour enhancers,or added sugars. premium wines are produced to offer quality ahead of quantity.

It all sounds like the traditionally produced wines are the ones to drink, but the downside is that they are all produced in limited quantities, meaning that availability cannot be always guaranteed, and they cost is a little bit more.

What to look for when buying wine.

wine labelsThere are several clues, many on the bottle labels, which will help you guage the quality of a wine.  It is fair to say that many mass produced wines are of decent quality, but our aim is to help you understand how to spot the differences, and perhaps appreciate why some wines are more expensive than others.



Firstly the price is an indication.  If a bottle is priced at around £5 to £8 it is likely to be mass produced.  Bottles costing £10 and upwards are more likely to be a premium wine. (see cost of a bottle)

If you see the same brand and exact name constantly available on the shop shelves it is a fair indication that the wine is available in quantity and therefore mass produced.

On the label.

Check for additives if mentioned.  Premium wines will have Chateauneuf de Papeno flavour enhancers, stabilisers or e-numbers but  all wines contain sulphites.  These are naturally occurring and a by product of fermentation, however high levels will indicate their addition as a preservative. (more detail)

Look to see where the wine was bottled.  Almost all natural and traditional wines are bottled at the winemakers, whereas it is common for mass produced wines to be shipped from the winemaker in huge quantities and bottled in the UK or Europe. These details will often be in the language of the producing country, see here for more information.

Look for details of the winemaker and the exact area where the wine was produced.  Traditionally made wines will normally have these details printed on he label.

Rioja labelLook for the classification or grade for the wine.  The Old World countries have classification systems which specify how wines should be produced in each region.  Look out for these classifications which indicate that the wine is made in the specified way and to the required standards. (more detail)

Watch out for misleading information.  Some wine labels now seem to contain letters and phrases which are close to the wording of the wine classifications, but are not using the correct words.  These can only be there to confuse and make you think that the wine meets required specifications when in fact it may not.

OK, all that said, you will no doubt find wines which are clearly mass produced but very drinkable, but it will help if you can spot these pointers and maybe understand why similar looking bottles can be such different prices.  Remember, look for value, not just price.  If you see a special offer look closely and check if the claimed original price is in keeping with the information on the label ! 

The wine producing regions. 

The wine regions are again split into two, Old World, the countries where wine has been made for centuries, and New World, where wine production began only a few hundred years ago.  There is a big difference between the two in relation to why the various wine styles are produced:

In the Old World countries wine styles have very much evolved to work with the foods typically available in a particular region.  Hundreds of years back people ate what was available in their immediate vicinity.  He couldn’t just nip down to the supermarket and buy produce from the other side of the world!  Their food was what they could grow or catch in the fields, forests and rivers or sea around them.  So wine was made in a style to best suit the local fare.

In the New World wine making started when people left the Old World countries and took their skills with them.  Vines were mostly exported to the New World, and grape varieties and styles are those brought by the early settlers from their home countries.  So wine making started using Old World grape varieties and techniques, although these have developed to suit the conditions and climate of the areas.  In essence the New World wine production has developed to suit the tastes of consumers, and as wine consumption has increased in places like the UK, the New World wines have provided a variety of styles at reasonable cost for everyday drinking.

Factors influencing grape growing.

 The same variety or grape type can produce very different tasting wine, depending on where it is grown.  There are a 3 main factors which will impact on character of the grape and the flavour of the wine.

  • 1. Location Grapes are grown widely across the world, but not all are suitable for wine production. To give the best wine, grapes have to have the right balance of fruit sugars, acids and tannin. The quality of the grape depends on the quality of the soil where the vine grows, the irrigation of the vines and the climatic conditions.  As a rule the best wine growing areas are located between the 30 and 50 degree lines of latitude, both north and south of the Equator.  While grapes will grow outside these boundaries they are unlikely to possess the correct characteristics to make wine.


  • 2. Climate All climatic factors will influence the grape.  Sunshine, rainfall, frost and wind will all effect the flavour and quality if the grape.


  • 3. Soil type and conditions  Vines tend to flourish in poor soil condition.  The plant’s roots are forced to grow deep to extract the necessary water and minerals for survival, and such vines which have to fight for existence generally produce the best fruits and wines.

So the quality of the wine depends on the quality of the grapes, but also of course on the skills of the winemaker.